- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

David Lynch is one of the greatest American filmmakers working outside the studio system. So it might come as a surprise to hear him speak favorably of the milieu he seems to avoid.

“I just love all of Hollywood and the studios and the kind of dream of it,” he says during a recent visit to the District. “That golden age of cinema is alive in the air in L.A. It’s just fantastic to me. And I like ideas and stories that come out of that.”

Mr. Lynch’s last two films did. “Mulholland Dr.,” which got Mr. Lynch his third Oscar nomination for best director, follows an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) who befriends an amnesiac (Laura Harring). “Inland Empire,” which opened here last week, stars Laura Dern as an actress confusing her own life with that of the role she’s playing.

Though they both have some sharp satire, the director never set out to be biting.

“Say you decided, ‘I’m going to make a film which pokes fun at Hollywood.’ That to me puts the cart right smack in front of the horse. It’s so strange to think that way,” he says.

But character development might mean that, as in “Inland Empire,” your movie star character must be helped into his clothes by two female assistants. It’s a wry moment.

“But it’s not to do something against something,” he says. “It just comes with the idea.”

In fact, to just about every question about Mr. Lynch’s work, it seems the response is something like: “It’s the ideas.”

If there’s one word Mr. Lynch uses more than “ideas,” it’s “love.” The filmmaker’s mostly uncompromised career, which includes “Blue Velvet” and the television series “Twin Peaks,” has been one long, passionate love affair.

“As soon as you fall in love with even a fragment of the whole, you’re hooked. You know what you’re going to be doing, it’s so exciting. Then your job is to translate those ideas to cinema,” says Mr. Lynch over a latte (a couple pots of hotel coffee and an empty Starbucks cup are also visible in the room).

“Inland Empire” took years to film, because it was never meant to be a feature. He shot a single scene — he won’t reveal which one — and left it at that. Then he shot an unrelated scene. “Lo and behold, some ideas came that started uniting those scenes,” he recalls. He wrote the script as he shot.

He describes it as “thrilling,” but when asked if he’ll do it again, he quickly says no.

“It happened in an innocent way, and it worked out,” he says. “But I think there’s something to working things out in the script first.”

Mr. Lynch describes how he develops his enigmatic films. “In the beginning, I don’t know anything. Then you get an idea and you know something. Then you know a little bit more with another idea. Ideas are talking to you,” he says. “It’s like there’s the completed puzzle in another room, and someone keeps popping pieces of it over to you.”

“Inland Empire” has one meaning for its maker. But he doesn’t expect that to hold for every viewer.

“Even if it’s abstract, there’s an intuitive understanding of the thing making sense to you,” he says. “You hope if it feels correct to you, it will feel correct to others. But when things get abstract, the interpretations start varying.”

Fans spent hours puzzling out “Mulholland Dr.” “Inland Empire” is even less direct, but Mr. Lynch assures us, “Yeah, it’s figurable.”

“I like films that make me dream or make me think and wonder,” he continues. “So if an idea comes along and it fulfills that, I’m very pumped up. Everything can be pieced together, that’s the beautiful thing.”

Some find such films more frustrating than fascinating. Has Mr. Lynch had that feeling himself as a viewer?

No, he says, because there’s always “intuitive knowing.”

“In poetry, words and combos of words conjure something. A feeling and a thought comes out of those combos,” he says. “Cinema is so beautiful at saying abstractions. Are there words it could be translated into? Yeah, by a poet.”

Music can also inspire both emotion and thought. “Cinema has that ability but even more tools,” he marvels. “By things moving in time, by certain sounds and images, magical things can come from that.

“There’s so many beautiful things, mysteries and abstractions and wonderings in life,” he continues. “It seems kind of absurd that people want to know everything [in a film] when in life there’s so much we don’t know about.”

It’s clear one should be careful not to read too much into Mr. Lynch’s work. “Inland Empire” contains visual references to his past work, but it’s sometimes accidental.

“There’s no rule, now that I’ve used red curtains — or anybody’s used anything — that you can’t do it again. But at the same time, you might want to change at least the color of the curtains,” he laughs. But when he found a location perfect for a scene, it happened to contain red curtains. “You gotta roll with the flow,” he says.

Many have wondered why the filmmaker provides a daily weather report on his Web site when home in L.A. The words “weird” and “strange” popped up in one Internet discussion. The explanation is more prosaic.

“I’m an incredible weatherman,” he laughs. It came about because he didn’t feel he was updating his site enough, and wanted to have at least some contact with his site’s (sometimes paying) members.

Two of Mr. Lynch’s biggest mainstream successes — “The Elephant Man” and “The Straight Story” — were based on fact. Does he plan to return to the nonfiction sphere?

” ‘Inland Empire’ is based on a true story,” he says with a mysterious smile. But once again, it’s all about the ideas — and whether he’ll fall in love.

“When I first heard the name ‘The Elephant Man,’ there was an explosion in my brain, and I said, ‘That’s it, I know, that’s it, I want to do that.’ I didn’t even know what the story was really, I just knew I had to do it. I wasn’t going to do ‘The Straight Story,’ not in a million years. I read the script, I see the thing, feel it,” he recalls. “So it depends on what comes along. There are ideas out there that are coming and you fall in love sometimes.”

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